Cap Folk ‘n’ Roots Series
Black Umfolosi

Date and Venue 24 February 2008, 8pm | Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre, 2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver

Featured Artists Sotsha Moyo, Thomeki Dube, Alec Ncube, Zenzo Hlaseka and John Munzabu

Reviewer John Jane

Bulawayo, which means “place of the persecuted one” in the Ndebele language, is the only major town in Zimbabwe that still retains its pre-independence name. It’s also the home of the all-male, multi-discipline performing arts group, Black Umfolosi.

I had never seen Black Umfolosi before; neither on their previous visits to Vancouver nor even on television. So, when Capilano College Entertainment Director, Fiona Black mentioned during her introduction that the group had been performing together for twenty-six years, I was expecting to see men in their fifties, or even their sixties.

But, when five identically dressed, Zimbabweans bounded onto the small ‘Cap’ theatre stage, I was astonished to see that these men were only in their thirties. As Sotsha Moyo, who appeared to be the group’s unofficial spokesman, later explained, they came together as a means of entertaining themselves while still in primary school.

Their musical style is a potent blend of Mbube (township a cappella) and their own contemporary style inspired by cultural traditions and sung in Ndebele.

Their music focuses on a wide range of themes that are important to the people of their region of Southern Africa; so, it not only entertains, but also serves to broadcast issues of local interest – rather like a “vocal newspaper.” Songs such as the plaintive Ikhaya Elihle express simple things that exist in everyday life like keeping in contact with close friends and relatives while separated.

Of the twenty or so songs performed, only three were sung in English. “I Remember” - that laments on a relationship with a former girlfriend; “Summertime” – a simple, uplifting tune describing the many things to see and do in the very hot weather. And, of course, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which is probably the first ever known song in the Mbube style. This was the single tune that was instantly recognizable to everyone in the audience, so, when Thomeki Dube called for audience participation, the response was abundant.

Black Umfolosi finished the show with an athletic, bare-torsoed, hard-hat performance of the celebrated “Gumboot” dance which for me, evoked memories of mine dancing in the Transvaal.

© 2008 John Jane